Monday, January 16, 2017

A cure for worry


How can we win over worry in 2017?
We've learned from our studies last week that worry is a serious sin, even though we might not have thought so, initially. It's one that many of us commit every week. Even daily.
We can see that it would be unrealistic to believe there will be an easy cure.

But we can overcome worry and anxiety.
Remember those birds sitting on the wire, last week? Jesus told us in Matthew 6:26 to "look at the birds" of the air. Observe them. Maybe we can learn from them . . .
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  (Matthew 6:26)
People are way more important than birds, right? We read in Genesis that God created people in His own image. That He breathed into us the breath of life. And we've been promised eternal life, too.
But look at what Jesus also said about the birds:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31)
God cares that much about the birds; and then we are told that we are worth much more than the sparrows. The things of this world are awfully important to those sparrows, no? How cold the night winds are, how plentiful (or scarce) the seeds left behind in the threshing floor will be, and so forth. But humans are spiritual beings. We are special, and made for a higher purpose. We should live with eternity in our view, not just the here and now. We need to remember what Jesus said about life being more important than food, and our bodies being more important than clothing. . .

Recently, there were wildfires in our area, and some folks had to be evacuated from their homes. They were told to leave the treasured places of their families' fun and memories. Leave behind much of the "things" that are considered precious. I don't think that these people spent time mopping the floors, or painting the hallway, or making sure the pictures were hanging straight. They were quickly loading their car or truck with only those things that were truly valuable, and truly special -- the irreplaceable things.

We know for a fact that this world will eventually be consumed with fire (I Peter 3:10), so our focus should be on the things that are eternal. If someone comes along a hundred years from now, they won't be dwelling on whether or not we were five pounds overweight, or if there was a dent in the fender on our car. They probably won't zone in on whether or not our child was in the highest rank of the band roster, nor if our purse and our shoes always coordinated. The things that will matter will be issues like whether or not we were generous and hospitable, if we spoke up for God and witnessed to folks, and if we were known for being gentle and kind.

Everyone can show a serene exterior when things are going well. But if the only time we are calm is when things are going great, we're going to live a very anxious life! Peace of mind comes mostly from keeping eternal things in perspective . . . as they say, not sweating the small stuff!

That is an important reason to worship regularly, and to have our own quiet times, too. We can be reminded that life is more important than food, and that humans are valued more than birds. We can focus on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, because we know all these other things will be provided when we need them.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Worriers all, part IV


Are you surprised?

Usually on Fridays, we have a musical selection to allow us time to stop, think, and pray. This week, we are continuing on with our important study of worrying.

In our verses for this week, Jesus noted some things that we should not worry about. Let's look at those today.

The first thing that He told us not to worry about . . . . uh oh, guilty as charged. He said not to worry about money!
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." (Matthew 6:19)
Don't be anxious about our worldly possessions. That's a tough one, isn't it? We quite often are apprehensive about our finances. Can we pay our house payment? Can we make it one more month before we repair the car? Many today are saddled with debt, and many young people struggle to make payments on student loans. Fear of financial failure is very real for many of us today, and it's important to keep things in focus. We can make the best plans we can, and work hard, save carefully, but don't let worry about finances destroy our mental and emotional well-being.

Next, He told us to not worry about food (verse 25). Our situation today is so different than those folks to whom He spoke at the time; many of them had no idea where their next meal would come from, or when it would be! We have so many choices today, in our stuffed-full supermarkets! We no longer are concerned with what foods are in season or out of season, since our food can be brought into the stores from all over the world. We have such abundance; we are truly blessed. Today, our worries are often whether or not we are eating the "right" foods, or eating in the right proportions. As we have discussed before, it is good to take care of our bodies, for they are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Just don't agonize over things.

Jesus mentions worry about our bodies in verse 25, also.  It's wise to be careful to stay healthy, and to engage in exercises and activities that will keep us fit -- but there is something unbalanced about it when we spend a couple of hours in the gym, and only five minutes on our knees with our Father! We don't need to agonize over our shape; keeping healthy and in balance is more important.

Jesus knew us so well -- in verses 28 and 31, He says don't worry about our clothes. (Grin) For those He spoke to that day, the garment they were wearing was probably the only one they had. They definitely had to be careful not to rip or tear it, or wear it out. Today? Not so much. We spend our time wondering if we are wearing the "right" clothes. Is this gathering going to be "business casual?" Do these shoes clash with my outfit? Yes, being nicely groomed is an important part of our testimony, but being tormented about our clothing can stop us from noticing someone who needs our help.

Lastly, in verse 27, we noted before that He asked which of us could add even one hour to our lives by worrying . . . in other words, don't be anxious about the future. It's human nature, I guess, to be wary of death. Some are terrified of the thought. Some are just as terrified of the process of aging . . . they search the mirror each day for new wrinkles, and worry about the color of their hair. They sink huge amounts of money into serums and surgeries, in order to look younger. They don't want to tell people which birthday they are celebrating, either. They are worried about the future, the here-after, which seems to them to be coming toward them at an accelerated pace.

All of these are things that Jesus told us not to worry about.
We noted one day this week, that worry is actually symptomatic of a lack of faith, a shortage of trust in our Father. I'm talking just as much to myself as to anyone else! Next week, we'll work on a Biblical cure for worry. Hope you will join us again.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Worriers all, part III


Today we will look at Jesus' command that we not worry. It's a tough one to follow, but maybe these studies will help us to make things different in 2017!

Let's refresh our memory of our focus passage:
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Wow. I didn't realize until I started this study that Jesus says "do not worry" THREE times in this short passage! I guess it's good that we are working our way through this, right? (Grin)

Before we go any further, let's also look at three words that frequently are bandied about, but have different meanings:

Concern -- to be interested in, engaged with
Worry -- to torment oneself with disturbing thoughts, to fret
Anxiety -- distress, uneasiness of mind caused by fear, agitation

Concern is something that identifies probable difficulties, but focuses on resolving those problems. Concern usually results in action on our part. Worry and anxiety are identified as "what if?" issues, and are typically the uncontrollable problems that we envision. What if I have a wreck on the way home? What if my child receives a cancer diagnosis? What if war starts with North Korea? The big difference is that with worry and anxiety, there is little or no action as a result of our thoughts.

We do need to be concerned. We need to identify problems that we can solve, and work to resolve them. That is being careful, and being good stewards of our time and our resources. Giving attention to problems that we can take action for, and resolve, is a good thing!
Years ago, when I was a little tyke, and my parents were navigating our family car in between the dinosaurs' paths to get to our kinfolks in a neighboring state, I looked out the window at a huge flock of birds. They had stopped circling and were settling down on a stretch of high voltage wires. I wondered aloud why they were gathered there. One of my parents chuckled and said, "I guess they called a meeting. Maybe they are discussing their migration plans!"  I rolled my eyes and dismissed the remark as silly, but it does make a point for us. Birds do sense that the seasons are changing, and they react to prepare for those changes. In much the same way, we are expected to prepare for changes in our lives.

In other words, Jesus' words "do not worry" are not to be taken as instructions that we should disregard tomorrow's potential problems. It makes sense to plan ahead!
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-29)

So, saving for a rainy day, buying life insurance, or planning ahead with a fully-stocked pantry is not a sin. (Grin)
The difference is, we are told not to be "anxious." Just like Jesus mentioned in verse 27 of our passage, which one of us can add a single hour to our lives by worrying? No one! In fact, worry can shorten our life span.

Tomorrow we'll glance down the list of things that Jesus told us NOT to worry about!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Worriers all, continued


This week we are studying that "respectable" sin of worry. The one that we don't think is such a big deal . . . but it is!

Our focus passage is from the Sermon on the Mount, and they are some of the most beloved verses of the New Testament. But do we follow their guidance? Hang on, while we dive in again!

Have you ever wondered why worry is such a problem today? Why is it so common? Why do so many Christians admit to struggling with worry and anxiety?

I guess some of it has to do with how we are wired. Our personalities. For some people, pressure rolls right off like a drop of rain on a duck. They almost never worry. Stress? Not very often. If things start to go downhill, they stay loose and "roll with it." But other people are just not wired that way. They are a little melancholy, or a lot perfectionist. (Grin) They really are sticklers for details and they go into absolute agonies over small things that go wrong. It is they who are our chronic worriers, although our "roll with it" folks are sometimes beset with anxiety -- they are not entirely immune!

Some of the worry has to do with the affluence of today. Solomon saw this, and I reckon (sorry, I get more like my grandma every day) that he said this from personal experience:
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,    whether they eat little or much,but as for the rich, their abundance    permits them no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:12)
Remember all of the commercials that we see on television? All of those companies that want to sell us security systems?  The more we possess, the more we have to protect, and insure for loss, and worry about.

Yet another reason for worry is media (and social media, too). We are living in an age where information is instantly available. Things that we would have been completely unaware of, a hundred or so years ago, are readily and quickly known. A weapon launched halfway around the world from us, the stock market in another country, or a virus that breaks out in a different hemisphere than the one we live in. It all adds up to an information overload that our ancestors never could have dreamed of. People attack each other by tweeting, which is something that birds used to have a monopoly on. We all are tied to our mobile phones, and get the latest and greatest news any time of the day or night.

Still another cause for anxiety are our own experiences. As we grow and mature, we see and experience things -- that's all well and good. But as we age, we can begin to worry more, because we know of accidents and tragedies that have happened, and can happen again to some of those we love.

But the real reason for worry is usually a lack of faith in our Father.
Ouch.
Yes, that got my toes, too.
But it's true. Humans want to be in control of everything. We have a difficult time accepting the fact that there are some things we cannot direct. There are areas of our lives that we find it difficult to surrender. But it's imperative that we "cast our anxiety" on Him, for He cares for us. Then we won't be tempted to spend valuable time fretting over things that are in His hands.

We'll continue our study tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Prayer requests


It's been a while since we paused to pray together. I hope that this new year will bring health and peace to all who read and study here.

Some of us have left requests here to pray for our health, and for the health of our loved ones. Some have asked for comfort as trying times are upon us.

Please be assured that your requests are noted, and that we pray alongside you, and bear your burdens. Please know, too, that Jesus already knows of these concerns, and that He is delighted when we turn to Him for His help and strength.

It is He Who can heal, Who can move, and Who can comfort.  Seek His face, and wait quietly for a word from Him.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (I John 5:14-15)

If you would like to share a prayer request, or to share a praise for answered prayer, please leave a comment below.


Let's pray.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Worriers all


I know, right? We're supposed to be getting back on board and studying the women of the Bible . . .

But I feel like the Holy Spirit is urging me to do this study first. And we may take two weeks on this one, so hang on for the ride! (I brought the first aid kit, so we are prepared!)

Let's imagine if all of us were seated in a coffee shop together (wouldn't that be awesome, to meet each other, and exchange stories and hugs? Sweet!) and we all had our cups of java or tea, and were settled down to talk over our pocket Bibles.  I would be honored to lead that study, just as I am to lead this online group each day.
Suppose that I asked if every one of us who struggle with worry would raise their hands?
Probably half, or maybe two-thirds of us would smile and put our hand up in the air. We might chuckle -- after all, doesn't everyone worry?

No big deal, right?
Wrong.
Shaking your head at me, I can hear it! Here's the difference: if we had a group and asked everyone who had committed adultery, or taken the Lord's name in vain, to raise their hands -- do you honestly think anyone would put their hand in the air?
Nope.
We will admit that we worry because we think it's a itty-bitty sin. Kind of like when we lose our tempers in traffic, or when we re-tell a morsel of "news" (gossip) that we heard. We just don't put it on the list of "big sins," so we don't feel we need to keep it hidden. And we actually chuckle about it.
But Jesus didn't make that distinction. He said that sins are sins, not itty bitty or big.
Let's read a few verses, OK?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Wow.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus devoted ten verses to the subject of worry. He made it pretty clear that worry is a sin, a serious one.

It's easy to see why.
Worry can ruin our health and our physical well-being. The number one killer in America is heart disease, much of it brought on by high blood pressure and anxiety. People have panic attacks and stress related pains, impacting their ability to work, to play, and more.
Worry really messes with our emotional status, too. How many people do you know that are relying on medicines to help them greet each new day? Valium, Prozac, and many more -- they are all words that are familiar in this day and age, as we struggle with stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Worry does a number on our spiritual life, too. If we are burdened down with worry, and pre-occupied with worried thoughts, how in the world can we focus on our Bible reading, or truly listen to God in our prayer times?

This is the focus of our study for the next few days. I sure hope you will join us.


Friday, January 6, 2017